The sound of applause kept coming from the other side of the door with the name ‘conference room’ written on it and continues chatter following up a brief moment after. Nicks team of architects stood right outside, with ears sharper than ever, trying to catch every word spoken by the people behind the door. Some from his team leaned beside the door for clearer sound, but it was hard to get what they were saying, because of multiple dialects – everyone wasn’t from the same country as they thought they’ll be. Silence covered one side and endless chatter another side; the two different places stood on one floor, in one building. Marry, who was close enough to start hearing footsteps getting louder by every second, making her step off the door, right before it began opening. The door to the unknown opened and a group of serious people in their suits stormed out; covered with faces of regret, disappointment, and nothing positive – the usual businessmen who haven’t had sex from their wives in months. Herd stormed out and a picture of Nick shaking hands with few last of them surfaced above. Last handshake with last businessmen who seemed happy standing against Nick.
Nick was persisting guy, with an ambition to become greatest one day. To walk over the corpses for an ultimate prize was his motto. He was the guy who grows a beard only for two weeks in every month and then shaves it off for the next month to come; dates he chose randomly with the same reason every time ‘i like to surprise and reward myself every month’ – a punctual guy with weird hobbies. Although for a person who had always opinion for everything, he disliked judging others – debating was his thing, but conflict just wasn’t in his nature.
“So? Give me the good news Nick.” Marry with anticipation and look of a curious girl awaited his answer.
“Yeah cowboy, how did they take it huh? I don’t want to rush the news, but by the look on your face, seems like you grabbed the bull by its balls.” Bernard was their teams ‘jester’ always there to land a joke or unique comparison between someone. A guy with many talents, more flaws, and brain of a rice grain.
“They fucking bought it! I can’t believe, all those sleepless nights finally played off.” With a huge smile on his face and excitement in his voice, he began hand clapping everyone on his team.
“Holy sweet Jesus balls, I knew it, I fucking knew it. Listen, this calls for a proper celebration, you feel me hermano? I can already taste the sweet flavor of celebration when I clung down beer at ‘Chain Drive’”.
Full with excitement, Bernard couldn’t shut up about the idea that they created something magnificent – a project for twenty-six story building with a worth of fortune.
“I’m thinking you deserve this,” Teodora kissed him on a check and continued with a small gift in her hands “This is from all of us. After all, you were the one who got us this far, the one who didn’t quit on this project when all the others were prepared to. For you, who delivered us through countless nights of hard work and never lost faith.”
She hugged him and the sound of teams applauses appeared behind her.
“We all did this, us as a team. I can’t take credit for our common struggle, wish I could, but I can’t. There is no ‘I’ and ‘you’ on this work. For all, we had a vision of success and it came to life” Nick looked on each of his teammates, inhaled air and continued “Okay, Enough with chit-chat, let’s all go home and meet up at ‘Chain Drive’. The celebration awaits!”
“Hell yeah, me and my boy Nick will totally nail the dance floor. Am I right Nicky? I hope you didn’t forget about our dance moves.” With excitement, Bernard made a small dance move show off, just to amuse the ladies in their team.
“Of course I do, how can I forget our drunk evenings at your house.”
“The best, right.”
“Wait, what kind of drunk evening you two are talking about?” Marry, who always been kept in the dark about their adventures off work, finally started to poke her nose in their conversations.
“Yeah dudes, what is more to you both that we don’t know?”
“Shhh. Ladies, after the fourth shot of tequila, I promise, It will be the sigh to remember.” Bernard took his coat and began walking to the elevator, and right when about to walk in, clapped his hands above his head, adding “Yeah boy, totally nailed it. Woof.” He howled for everyone to hear and disappeared in the elevator.
“Seems he can’t wait for evening to come,” Teodora muttered to her self and though he heard her, Nick asked.
“Oh no, It’s nothin, Nicky. Seems like your friend is really glad about our win.”
“Don’t forget, he stated that it will be a sight to remember, girl.” Marry giggled and reached for her coat “Does any of you going by cab? Nick? Teodora?”
“Yeah, I’m coming. Let me just grabbed my coat, Nick you with us?”
“Oh no, I have to make a phone call first and besides I have someone picking me up.”
“What’s the matter Nick, can’t handle two girls at once?”
Both girls giggled and walked to the elevator, leaving Nick the last living soul on the 7th floor of office building. Few lights emitted from a decent amount of windows in front of the building, which was on the other side of the road. Night’s darkness started to cover skies, meter after meter, mile after mile. Slight vibration occurred in Nick’s pocket. It was his brother, Larry. Year’s of serving in Iraq, he came home, to meet his young brother and have some good old-time together. Phonecall lasted just a minute and Nick was on his way down with elevator, to meet up with Larry who stood down – at bottom of the building. Larry rented a cheap car for a few days ahead, for he didn’t know how long he would stay here with his young brother.
The car he rented was rusted to the chassis, few places were covered in original paint, while others remained in color from temporary fixes, a small car, who barely could run on city streets. Larry didn’t bother about the condition of the car, only thing mattered to him was its ability to get him from one place to another. The car moved under nights streets and lights from lamp poles began to fade in one straight line, making Nick start losing his grip on reality. The smell of manly cologne in which Larry sank his clothes, started to give out Nick light headaches.
“Damn brother, are you okay? You seem pretty quiet for a night ride to… what was the place again?”
“Chain Drive. It’s your cologne that makes my head dizzy. Do you wash your clothes in it because dude or you developed a nasty habit of drinking it for past years? And man, it smells terrible. I wanna see how you get some pussy tonight.”
“Hahahaha, nice on bro. Cologne doesn’t matter, they usually don’t fall for that. These, these here are for the women” he flexed his right arms biceps to show it off for Nick, who didn’t act surprised, but sure was. It was five years they didn’t see each other and catching up like this was a nice way to spend Thursday evening; to slide into endless amounts of beer and conversations about what is the right thing for both brothers.
Minutes slipping by, mile after mile driven, imagining endless scenarios about the evening at Chain Drive; who would be the lucky guy and walk away with a lady by his side. Nicks friends were hours away from meeting up at Chain Drive, but Larry had a different idea on his mind. Anticipation stood over Larry, as he wanted to get to know what his brother was up to these past years. The engine revved like crazy with Larry’s feet on the gas, he ignored most of the speed limit signs, to finally arrive at the bar. Larry had lost the sense of danger over the past years.
A bald man, with a size of a two-door closet, stood at the entrance, asking both brothers ID and both of them couldn’t believe people keep asking for these.
“Dudes, it’s just for formality and little dudes like you” he pointed with his chin to Nick, slightly lifting it and right after Larry stood in with an argument.
“I’m sensing a problem here and seems like it’s standing right in front of us. You better apologize. I have no problem dropping guys like you. A guy like you, who might look big, but have no idea about how a fight goes on.” Larry was slightly smaller than him but had more confidence in him.
“Yow, your dude is nuts” he pointed his chin at Larry this time “But what a hell, I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job and slipping some joke from time to time never hurt anyone. Except for you dude.” He and Larry stared in each other eyes, both thinking what will happen now.
“Hey, hey! Let’s go in, we didn’t come here to fight. Besides, I have to wait for my friends and It wouldn’t look pretty if I miss them.” Nick had to step in before situation would escalate and with the clap on Larry’s back, they walked in the bar. On the way in there, Larry looked in guards eye’s with a cold look, thinking on his mind ‘this isn’t over, we come back to this later’
The bar owned its name from all the people who drove through there. It always had interesting guests coming in every Thursday, starting from hopeless romantics to hardcore guitar players – It was the name that drew everyone closer. From the front it looked like any other cozy bar, with cheap beer serving all night long; while it’s back remained with sex and piss infested aura – the graffiti sprayed toilets was the place to go after few drinks. Place call out for people who liked cheap beer and a quick way to get fucked afterward. Despite filthy back of it, none paid attention to it – a small sacrifice, to justify the means behind it.
“What are you two having?” both hands placed on top of the bar stool and slightly leaning over, bartender questioned both brothers.
“Beer. Make it cold, the colder the better.”
“Come on, beer? Nicky for real? Two shots of bottom shelf whiskey, the cheaper the better.” The bartender didn’t need much after that and he started pouring.
“Bottom shelf, really Larry? I thought you’re better than this..”
“Oh brother, you gotta have a taste of bottom before you dip your tongue in something better. Makes you appreciate it more if you’re not wasted already. Salute!”
Both shot glasses hit each other and right after followed up with another round. Shots went by and the bottle of cheapest whiskey was gone and Larry decided to move a little higher, aiming at the vodka bottle, which stood in front of their eyes. Laughing was taking over their conversation, words faded away and both of themselves were drunk already. A filter of their conversations disappeared and both started saying the first thing that came into their minds.
“Listen, Nick, I lost a fellow teammate in Iraq. We both ran for cover and he blows up right beside me, a ghost of him still haunts me. I can’t shake off the feeling about losing someone else Nick, do you understand me…” he swallowed booze from his shot glass “Okay, I’ll shut up about the war, tell me how’s your sex life going on?”
“Well, It’s good, so to speak. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I had proper sex. Not like in here, but in bed with nothing, except our passion between us.”
“Sounds like you have to go to different places than this bar brother.” Both of them started laughing and strangers voice came behind them.
“Hello, boys. I see you enjoying your time. Names Tracy by the way.” Larry saw her and poked Nick with his elbow.
“Names Nick, mind if I get you a drink?”
“Not at all… Bartender! Another round for all of us.”
She ordered vodka shots for all three of them. Lady who looked like the widow of some rich dude, wearing all black and with makeup all over her face. Having a stance of athlete and round ass to admire for hours, from which Nick couldn’t get his eyes off. The stunning blonde, who appeared from nowhere, was suddenly landed on Nicks’ hands. Whenever someone tells compliment about here she would smile and curl her hair with her finger.
“Guys. What you’ve think if we get back to my place? We can have a real party there.”
“I think yes, right Nick?” Larry poked Nick with his elbow once more
“I don’t know, I have to wait for my fellow friends. Can’t we stick for another hour?”
“Nicky, it’s just minute ride. Besides, we can have some fun and come back on time.” She winked at Nick and slid another ten-dollar bill to the bartender, “Keep the change.”
“Let’s go, Nick, you heard the lady.”
Three of them stepped outside. Warm wind refreshing Nick’s blurry image, which he got from countless shots from a bartender. The cab was ten minutes away, it wasn’t casual for them to drive so long for someone, who wanted a drive home from Chain Drive.
To pass out the waiting game, Tracy started smoking, which to their eyes appeared a joint.
“You want some boys?” she handed it out as an invite for crazy night ahead.
“Hell yeah, pass me that torch,” with excitement Larry took a drag and passed it Nick’s direction “Nicky, I know you want it.”
“I’m better not, but what the hell.”
It went few circles around them three and Nicks head began losing picture as soon as cab arrived. Both brothers sat in the back seat of the cab, while Tracy sat in front to explain cab driver direction for her house. The picture started to fade away, with last words to speak out and Nick found himself slowly falling in sleep on the back seat of the cab.
Pitch black darkness started to shape into a picture of a forest. Warm forest, warm enough to feel sunlight coming through the leaves. It felt like a peaceful dream and Nick started to enjoy every second of it. Bird chattering felt like music to his ears as he went through the forest at a slow pace. There was no one around, not a single human soul, just him and nature with all its creatures. Leaves were falling down reminding him of warm autumn days when he went camping. That feeling when all the friends gather to go on an adventure in the forest and later, in the evening, cook marshmallows over the campfire. Forests have always lifted his mood and there was no place better.
Slowly going on and stepping on dried leaves he saw a deer in the far distance, he wanted to capture this majestic moment and get a photo to show it to friends. Checking his pocket, he found nothing, no camera or phone – being in a dream felt weird to have empty pockets. The only thing that was there was compass, so he won’t get lost ‘how can I get lost in my dream’ he thought. Flowing through his dream and enjoying the moment, becoming one with nature. As deer went on, Nick went with him, watching where it leads. Curiosity raised as he went with him, perhaps the deer meant something. Forest was hot and sweat was starting to be a normal thing after an hour spent there; for Nick time started slowing down after each step he made. The thought about when this is going to end crossed his mind, drawing vague colorful picture more often ‘holy shit, is this because of weed’ – Nick began talking to himself in his own mind. Following up on deer like a hunter follows his prey, slowly trying not to scare him off; it was hard not to make a sound while stepping on dried leaves and picture wobbling around him.
He couldn’t wish for anything more peaceful and crazier than this. Letting deer take him only God knows where and watching how everything becomes to live around him. All trees were starting to become more and more alike and it felt like the deer was going in circles around the woods. The thought of getting lost didn’t cross Nicks mind, because he knew, this will eventually end and he’ll snap to reality. ‘Why don’t I just enjoy this rollercoaster while it last’.
Suddenly deer stopped at a place, which looked like there was a camp just a few days ago. Deer’s head slowly turned in Nicks direction. It was like he was trying to say something, seemed like his mouth was moving, but it was just the wind in the leaves.
Nick was coming closer and closer, but the deer wouldn’t move – like he just froze. Something wasn’t right, it was just a few meters between the two of them. Nick thought he heard someone calling his name. There was a tiny echo coming from somewhere and it sounded like that deer was saying it. Something was familiar about that voice and he heard it again, but this time he was sure it came from the deer’s direction, perhaps from behind him. They were both standing and looking straight at each other when he heard it again.
Woods started to feel different, depressed, trees went from green to grey and the sky would become darker in a second. Bright sun, which came through the leaves, was gone now and dark clouds rolled over his head.
Blood started to come out from deer’s eyes, pouring all over his face – the sudden dream was turning into a nightmare.
This time it felt like it came from the deer, from his mouth. Deer, with face covered in blood and moving his mouth, speaking out one word.
Nick thought, ‘this is it… it turned completely upside down. I have to wake up’
“Nick, for sake dude. Nick” the voice became more solid.
‘Holy shit, this isn’t right’ from a dream he snapped back to reality.
The same dark wood covered everything around him, infinite darkness stared back at him. He couldn’t move, both hands were interlocked together, which seemed like some sturdy rope ‘am I still dreaming?’ His back was sliding over the ground, a hard solid ground with leaves covering above it, making it softer. Sliding over branches and tiny stones, which laid on the way; every small detail on the way was scratching his back, making the whole situation even worse. With tiny glimpse above his tied hands, a dark shape of a person seemed like was dragging him further and further. He started to roll and move in panic, but the mysterious person pulled him closer with force, making Nicks’ head jump back to the ground. Head got more dizzy after a knockback like that and Nick became worried about what will happen.
“What the hell, who are you?” he shouted at the person, but nothing.
Rolled his head to the right and he saw his brother right beside him, in the same condition as he. Both hands were tied together, no clue what’s going on and being dragged god knows only where.
Nick flickered his eyes like he would just wake up and didn’t understand what was going on, he couldn’t believe.
“Where the fuck are we? Why our hands are tied?”
“You can’t remember, do you?”
“Remember what exactly? What’s going on? The last thing I remember is us leaving the bar with Tracy and waiting for a cab. What the fuck? This can be real.” There were many questions.
“They roofied you pretty hard last night, no wonder you don’t remember shit. I was conscious when the cab stopped, you were passed out and I told her I will take you home. She drove off back to the bar – I think she did – saying it’s shame you passed out, and I began walking you home when suddenly -boom- someone hits me in the back of my head. After it’s all black picture and I’m being dragged.
“What the fuck, Tracy? No this can’t be.”
“Listen this is real as it gets, no joke. There’s a slight chance we getting out of this alive.”
“Alive, what do you mean by that?”
“You still don’t watch the news!? There’s this cult who snatches people and drags them into the woods, leaving no trace… poof. None of the abducted souls came out of the woods. Word goes around, they making a sacrifice to the god, perhaps, that explains why there’s nobody found yet. They simply burn it.”
“It explains the late night show on radio which aired a few days ago. And if this is the cult, how you imagine dealing with this situation, how do you think we can get out of here?”
Nick was never tied up like that and he had no clue how to set himself free. He saw how people do it in the movies, but he knew that is all fake and made up, so there would be people who watch it.
“Listen,” he started whispering “I have a plan, a small swiss knife sits in my back pocket; guess they were too busy dragging our asses and forgot about it, but you have to work on distraction.”
“How I know when I have to do it?” they both were whispered to each other.
“Remember our wink combination we did when we were little?”
“No way. It’s stupid but as stupid as it can be, I can’t disagree.”
With both being dragged like two huge dead fishes by one strong fisherman, a light started to appear behind the big man. Both brothers were in deep shit as they described it. Larry caught a slight glimpse of campfire going on in front of a big man – another figure stood by the fire, sitting and poking the fire with a small stick. Two brothers were dropped like dead bodies beside each other, with campfire in the middle of them and second mysterious figure staring at them.
“So, who wants to go first?”
He made sure that Nick and Larry knew what is going to happen, that there won’t be a happy ending for either of them. Light from campfire emitted over their faces and both brothers came to shock once again. Large appeared to be a guard from the bar, they couldn’t believe it.
“I SHOULD DROPPED YOU WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE!”
Larry yelled at the huge one, but he continued to ignore him.
“Ohohoho, this one got the spirit. Perhaps, you want to go first?”
Small one squatted in front of his face, staring, with a grin on his face, his face remained a mystery for them, no clue who he could be. Seemed like one was the muscle of this duo and other was the brains. It was a pure nightmare, there was almost no way of getting out; only if Lary’s plan would work. Laid on the ground placing all hope on one plan, Larry stared at Nick and winked his direction. It was the sign to start working on the plan of theirs.
“FUCKING FUCKERS, WHY THE FUCK YOU HAVE TO DO THIS? ISN’T THERE ENOUGH BLOODSHED AROUND THE WORLD?”
Nick yelled at them with anger and it was working, they were both looking at him. The short one came face to face with Nick.
“Listen to me really carefully, you ‘enough bloodshed’. There are millions of people who are killing our planet with overpopulation. At some point, nature will take a piece of that population, but for now, we have to do it for her. Call it contributing to the world.”
“You are fucking insane, you know that?”
“Oh, no handsome. I’m just the one who stands up and tries to fix a fucking problem,” he was getting nervous; putting his both hands together, inhaled and exhaled, and continued “this will be over soon, you just have to hold on for a few minutes.”
The plan was working. Larry was almost free from the binds; as the rope was cut loose, he remained in the same position, waiting to interrupt. The big one extended his arm and grabbed Nick by his neck; lifted him up against the tree. It was like a ritual for him. Before slicing people’s throats, he would slam them a few times against the tree to make them dizzy so they wouldn’t feel the suffering that much.
Larry knew he has to stand up and try to do something. Quickly, he held his tiny swiss knife in his right arm and shoved it into the small ones back, injuring his spine. Little one collapsed on the ground. There was no movement from him, he laid there almost completely paralyzed. Big one turned his head, dropped Nick on the ground by the tree and screamed.
Looking at his brother laying down on the ground with a swiss knife in his back, he turned his head against Larry and pulled out decent combat knife. With a cold stare and full with anger, he yelled at Larry.
“YOU ARE DEAD, YOU HEAR ME. DEAD.”
Larry knew he has to run deeper into the woods and try to disappear from the view, otherwise, he will end up in that fire-place or worse. He ran and didn’t bother looking back; adrenaline took over him and he completely forgot about Nick, who was laying almost unconscious by the tree.
Slowly regaining consciousness, Nick saw the lying man on the ground with no movement. Seeing Larry’s swiss knife in his back, an idea quickly occurred in his head; he could get that knife and free himself from the bondage. Trying as fast as he could to get up, because crawling to him would take much more time, he managed to get up. He collapsed right next to the other guy, trying to get the knife. The little one started to scream in pain, and Nick knew he has to do it quickly. While he was trying to free himself, the little one started talking.
“You know that your friend is dead.. he won’t come back alive. My brother will come back with his corpse and when he does.. you will be next.”
“That’s if he catches him.”
Nick appeared small, but he was fast – being one of the best athletes in high school, but he lost his abilities once he started going to bars and pubs for the after work beer.
“My brother might look slow, but trust me, he’ll get him. There is no good outcome for any of you. You think you are safe, but you aren’t.” He just couldn’t shut up; he was trying to get in his head.
Suddenly screams came from the deeper part of the woods. It was Larry. Nick knew that could only mean one thing: that the big one got him and there is almost nothing he could do. Survival instinct was kicking in. He had to cut loose quickly, otherwise, he will end up like the little one said: dead. Finally free, he started running, and the last thing he heard from the lying guy, was:
“You won’t get far, we will get you.”
Without looking back, he ran. He felt no remorse for the knife he left in the guy’s back. After all, they were the bad guys. It was dark and the only light in the woods was the fire-place. Pitch black picture was in every direction he looked at, but he just kept running straight, hoping to come out of the woods. Leaves kept hitting his face as he ran blindly in one direction, in hope to reach road or highway. At last, he saw it, the far distanced lights; it was the cars which meant there was a road. A hope of getting out alive grew bigger.
Clueless on which direction he should run, he stood there for a second to catch his breath, he started running, and without stopping ran a mile. Suddenly, a car came from behind. He turned around and waved with both hands for it to stop, but it carelessly drove by. Nick started to get the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere – hope was fading away by second. He couldn’t stop, he had to keep moving and a few minutes after the last car, another appeared between two forests, which covered both sides of the road.
’You have to be crazy to stop here for hitchhiker at this time of the night,′ he thought, ‘especially when they are waving hands.’
Luckily, the car began stopping. Cheerful women stood by the wheel. She smiled at Nick until she saw his clothes completely trashed and dirty. After both observing each other, she began asking:
“What happened, why are you waving like that?”
“You have to help me, my brother is in bad shit, in the middle of the forest. We have been kidnaped, you have to call the cops. Lady, please.”
“Woah, Woah. Slow down, mister. For starters, there is no service here, you are in the middle of fucking nowhere. You’re lucky I stopped my car here. Best thing I can do for you is to take you to the closest gas station.”
“Middle of fucking nowhere? Where is that? What is the closest town then?”
“Rebersburg” she explained to him, but it didn’t make any sense to him, he never heard town with the name of Rebersburg.
“Guess I’ll take the ride to the gas station then.”
“As you say, mister. By the way, you look like shit. Here, have some water.”
“Ya, don’t mention. Thanks.”
The car was empty, he made sure of it. There were just a few grocery bags in the back. She is probably going home to her loving husband and kids after a late-night shift. They drove without saying anything. There were a lot of things going through his head. His biggest concern was, ’is Larry still alive?’ First, he had to get the police and ambulance involved. There was something odd in this ride, no radio to fill the silence and it felt uncomfortable. A gas station was coming up after a few minutes drive; car stopped and Nick turned his head towards her.
“Thank you, I can’t repay you enough for this.” He opened car doors and stepped outside, just about to start walking he heard her voice again.
“Hey, I wanted to ask. Do you smoke cigarettes Nick?” their eyes met each other
“No I don’t” he turned around to continue walking, and second after turned back to her “Wait, I never told you my name.”
He stood there completely confused and suddenly his body started to fail him, an exhaustion of old man began taking over. She began walking towards him.
“Of course you did Nicky, as our party only began,” with a cigarette in one hand and with other she began pulling down her wig, “You have to watch what you drink darling, don’t know who you can trust these days.”
“Tracy? No, this can’t be real”
“Oh darling, as real as it can be” she kissed him and he collapsed in front of her.